Thomas in forefront of GOP revolution

Published 12:00 am Monday, March 3, 2003

Selma’s Jean Sullivan started recruiting Malcolm Thomas into the Republican fold as far back as the early 1980s.

Nothing unusual about that. Sullivan, the former Republican National Committee-woman, has brought untold numbers of people into the Grand Old Party camp through the years.

What makes this particular case unusual is that Thomas is black, and in the 1980s the words &uot;black&uot; and &uot;Republican&uot; were something of a political oxymoron.

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By accepting Sullivan’s invitation to become politically active, Thomas, 63, placed himself squarely in the forefront of one of the most significant political trends of the last quarter-century: the rising number of blacks who are voting Republican.

Thomas points out that the Republican National Committee has initiated a number of outreach programs in recent years aimed at courting minorities. Such efforts are hardly new, though, he hastens to add.

Thomas &045;&045; a former president and owner of Peerless Technology Inc. of Huntsville, an engineering services firm &045;&045; is the state’s newly appointed commissioner of historically black colleges and universities. As such, his mission is to assist minority schools in procuring federal and state funds and to serve as a liaison between Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) and government agencies.

There are 15 two- and four-year schools in Alabama considered to be historically black, including Concordia College and Selma University. A school is considered to be historically black if, prior to 1964, a majority of its students were black.

Though he may stand out in his role as a black republican, Thomas is no newcomer to politics. He dates his first serious political involvement to 1960, when he worked for Richardson Dilworth’s campaign for mayor of Philadelphia.

Sullivan smiles and observes, &uot;You were a republican way back then,&uot; she tells Thomas. &uot;You just didn’t know it.&uot;

Among his many political activities is a stint as a member of the Council of 100 Blacks under President George Bush Sr. The group met with the president quarterly to advise him on how issues such as education and health care affected minorities. He is currently a member of the executive committee of the Alabama Republican Party.

When Bob Riley declared his candidacy for governor, Thomas drafted a proposal for winning minority votes and submitted it to Riley’s campaign manager. It was accepted and Thomas became a key player in the campaign.

Riley and Thomas continued to meet throughout the campaign.

Whenever Riley campaigned in North Alabama, Thomas was usually on hand to pick him up at the airport and to escort him to and from campaign rallies. Gradually the two developed a strong rapport.

Thomas honed much of his grassroots political approach in Selma. He was born here and his roots go deep. His mother, Lovie Thomas, taught school for 50 years. His father, the Rev. Dr. George Thomas Sr., preached in Selma. His uncle, Mark Thomas, ran a grocery store here for years. His sister, Otelia Moss, was a counselor at Selma High School. His twin sister, Mamie Thomas, still lives here.

As a longtime member and past state president of the International Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks of the World, Thomas conducted countless workshops on the importance of voting.

After years of being a lonely voice crying in the wilderness, Thomas says he has detected a growing receptiveness on the part of many blacks to consider the message of the Republican Party.

Those blacks who do embrace the Republican Party today will be following a trail blazed by Malcolm Thomas and others like him.